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A PLAIN OF THEIR OWN: What happens after the expiration of CARPER?

For several decades now, the plight of the Filipino farmers has reached plateaus of triumphs and valleys of failures—mostly based on the legal and socio-political fluctuations in the administration of agrarian reform. The issues on land acquisition and distribution have been heightened by the proactive participation of different societal sectors to bolster the claims of the Filipino farmworkers. The broadcast and print media widely publicized the fate of the Sumilao farmers (most notably, their 1,700-kilometer march for agrarian justice from Sumilao, Bukidnon to Malacañan), and the farmworkers of Aurora who were affected by the creation of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO).

The most recent and pressing concern in agrarian reform was the expiration of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) last June 30, 2014. It is a paradox in the agricultural sector that the legal basis of what the farmers have been fighting for, has just expired, even before the Filipino farmworkers found their way to the plain of consistency and stability—a plain they can till, cultivate and call their “own.”

Agrarian reform

 As an agricultural country, it is of utmost importance that the agricultural sector is given ample protection by Philippine laws. Agrarian reform has been a continuing concern in the Philippines. Agrarian reform is a constitutional mandate and is protected by the highest law of the land. It is the policy of the State to promote a comprehensive rural development and agrarian reform. Further, the agrarian reform program should be founded on the right of the farmers and farmworkers. It is noteworthy that the overarching goal of agrarian reform is countering the continued marginalization of the agricultural sector, thus ensuring that social justice is fully realized by Filipino farmers.

The constitutional recognition of the importance of the agrarian reform program was expressed in the charter’s transitory provision requiring the expropriation of agricultural lands, for distribution to the beneficiaries of the agrarian reform program, at the earliest possible time. To facilitate agrarian reform in the country, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) was specifically created to implement agrarian laws and ensure the realization of this social policy.

CARP and CARPER

The most important legal tool in the field of agrarian reform is the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which aimed to grant landless farmers and farmworkers ownership of agricultural lands. The basis of this program is Republic Act No. 6657, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 (CARL). The law placed the welfare of the landless farmers and farmworkers to receive the highest consideration, pursuant to the principle of social justice. Further, the policy of the State to promote a sound rural development and industrialization coincided with the principles behind the CARP. The beneficiaries of the CARP include the landless farmers, agricultural lessees, tenants, seasonal and other farmworkers. The implementation of the CARP is a joint duty among many government agencies. The DAR and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are the lead agencies in this program as they are in charge of the identification and distribution of “CARPable” land.

The CARP was strengthened by Republic Act No. 9700, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER). The CARPER extended the deadline for the distribution of agricultural lands to farmers for five years.  It has been five years since the amendatory law became effective on August 7, 2009. According to a commentary by Akbayan Representative Walden Bello (Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 10, 2014), the CARPER is a powerful law when the following provisions are taken into consideration:

Sec. 5 of CARPER, amending Sec. 7 of CARL Outlawed voluntary land transfer used by landlords to retain control of land via the “Stock Distribution Option” as a method of land redistribution
Sec. 21 of CARPER, amending Sec. 63 of CARL P150 billion budget for land acquisition and support services
Sec. 9 of CARPER, amending Sec. 24 of CARL Indefeasibility or non-revocation of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) and Emancipation Patents (EPs)
Sec. 23 of CARPER, amending Sec. 68 of CARL Immunity of DAR from temporary restraining orders or injunctions in the implementation of the agrarian reform program
Sec. 22 of CARPER, amending Sec. 65 of CARL Irrigated and irrigable lands as non-negotiable for land conversion

 

The most significant aspect of CARP to the Filipino farmers is land distribution. Land distribution and acquisition is initiated by a Notice of Coverage (NOC), a letter informing a landowner that his/her land is covered by CARP, and is subject to acquisition and distribution to beneficiaries. It likewise informs the landowner of his/her rights under the law, including the right to retain five hectares. The issuance of the NOC is significant vis-à-vis the June 30, 2014 deadline because the law allows the continuation of land distribution proceedings as long as they have already been initiated.

Achievements of the CARPER

The government released an update on the accomplishments in the field of agrarian reform, as of June 30, 2014. According to an Official Gazette issuance, “As of December 31, 2013, the government has acquired and distributed 6.9 million hectares of land, equivalent to 88% of the total land subject to CARP.” Of this area, the Aquino administration has distributed a total of 751,514 hectares from July 2010 to December 2013.

Despite the achievements of the CARPER up to date, the implementation of the program is not totally free from public scrutiny. Admittedly, the DAR recognizes the challenges posed by the full implementation of the CARPER. The agency cited the erroneous technical descriptions in the land titles as one of the barriers to the prompt distribution of land. Titles to some land were also destroyed, necessitating court proceedings for the reissuance of titles. The legal process guaranteeing the landowners’ right to due process has also been cited as one of the hindrances to land distribution. An example would be when the landowners petition for exemption or exclusion of their lands from the ambit of the CARP.

Expiration of the CARPER

June 30, 2014 marked a significant day in the history of CARPER—the finish line. Section 5 of the CARPER Law provides for “the final acquisition and distribution of all remaining unacquired and undistributed agricultural lands from the effectivity of this Act until June 30, 2014.” One interpretation of CARPER is that land acquisition and distribution shall be barred by June 30, 2014. This is based on the provision of Section 7 of the CARP Law, as amended by CARPER, saying that “land acquisition and distribution shall be completed by June 30, 2014 on a province-by-province basis.” Several socio-political movements lobbied for the full implementation of CARPER by extending the date to ensure that the “CARPable” lands are distributed to the beneficiaries under the law.

It is noteworthy that the CARPER Law also mandates that “any case and/or proceeding involving the implementation of the provisions of Republic Act No. 6657, as amended, which may remain pending on June 30, 2014 shall be allowed to proceed to its finality and be executed even beyond such date” (Sec. 30 of CARPER). Using this provision, the expiration date should be immaterial to the proceedings where the NOC have already been issued. The problem arises for the “CARPable lands” for which no NOC has been issued yet. There is a view that for cases wherein no NOC has been issued, the initiation of proceedings is forever barred due to the expiration of CARPER. As of press time, this remains to be a question that only an enabling law can solve.

A long way to go

As a program enshrined in the Constitution, the end should not be defeated by mere legal limitations of expiration. Almost a million hectares of land has yet to be acquired by the government for distribution in the 2014-2016 period: 771,795 hectares and 134,857 hectares for DAR and DENR, respectively. The following table shows the target number of land hectares for distribution as released by the Official Gazette:

Year Number of Hectares
2014 187,686
2015 198,631
2016 385,478

 

The target number of hectares schedule per year is not without any uncertainty, as 551,275 hectares of the CARPable landholdings to be distributed are considered workable, while 220,520 hectares are labelled as problematic. With an efficient and dedicated process, the future distribution will be a milestone success to the Filipino farmers and to the Philippine agricultural sector.

The distribution of agricultural lands to the landless farmers should be fully realized even after the date mandated by the law, in order to fulfill the intent of the highest law of the land. In fact, the nature of CARP as a continuing program is recognized by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Opinion 9, series of 1997, where it was mentioned that the program does not end until the scope and mandate is completed. The legal basis for the continuation of land acquisition and distribution is found in the CARPER Law. The aforementioned Section 30 of the CARPER Law provides that the landholdings with an issued NOC can be distributed even beyond the June 30, 2014 expiration.

The continuation of land distribution is supported by the DAR. Further, the 2014 General Appropriations Act also bolsters the continued distribution of land since there is still money appropriated for the program. Despite the governmental support to the continuation of land distribution, it is undeniable that there are also challenges that counter the full realization of land distribution to the farmers. Cases are pending before the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB) and judicial courts to revoke some issued Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA), based on the argument that the lands distributed were not covered by CARP. The law is bereft of an expiration period or legal limitation, other than those available in remedial law, on when the private landowners can assail the “CARPable” characteristic of their land. Once ruled by the courts as not “CARPable,” the farmers who were once victoriously awarded with CLOAs, might end up losing their rights.

An effective agrarian reform program is one that promotes the constitutional policy founded on the rights of farmers and farmworkers. In as much as several stakeholders also play a part in the implementation of CARP, a system of a just and fair land distribution should be the primary consideration. Certainly, agrarian reform and remedial laws should not be utilized as tools to defeat the rights of the farmers after they have fought a Herculean task of going against the legal system, the powerful landed elite and the “ineffectual bureaucracy” of the Philippine government. The Filipino farmers definitely deserve a plain of consistency and stability—a plain they can till, cultivate and call their own. P

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